MLB Power Rankings: Can this red-hot AL team catch the Rays?

Thursday, June 8, 2023

The Rangers have continued their climb up our weekly power rankings and have now usurped the Dodgers for the No. 2 spot, with the Rays holding steadfast at No. 1. But, with the roll Texas has been on as of late and its historic run differential, does it deserve to have the top spot?

Meanwhile, at the other end of our rankings, the Athletics are on a historic pace of their own -- albeit a bad one. Will they challenge the 1962 Mets' modern record of 120 losses? Or will the Royals catch Oakland at the bottom of our list?

Our expert panel has combined to rank every team in baseball based on a combination of what we've seen so far and what we already knew going into the 162-game marathon that is a full baseball season. We also asked ESPN MLB experts David Schoenfield, Bradford Doolittle, Jesse Rogers, Alden Gonzalez and Joon Lee to weigh in with an observation for all 30 teams.

Week 9 | Preseason rankings

1. Tampa Bay Rays


Previous ranking:1

It looked as if Tampa Bay's streak of no more than two consecutive losses on the season might be broken after the Rays dropped two games against the Cubs, but they stormed back by taking three of four against the Red Sox. Teams rarely go an entire season without dropping into a slump at some point, but we are more than two months into the season and the Rays continue to look like one of the most formidable teams in the sport without skipping a beat. -- Lee

2. Texas Rangers


Previous ranking:3

The Rangers had the proverbial good news/bad news kind of week as they increased their lead in the American League West with a sweep of division rival Seattle. Texas outscored the Mariners 30-9 in three games over the weekend, and Marcus Semien has remained hot, with a hit in 25 straight games (ending Wednesday, as he went hitless in the 1-0 loss to the Cardinals) and 31 of 33. The team's +155 run differential through its first 60 games is the best to start a season by any MLB team since the 1939 Yankees. The bad news? Texas lost Jacob deGrom to elbow surgery. It's a major blow, but Bruce Bochy, already the heavy favorite for AL Manager of the Year, has the team depth to keep rolling. -- Rogers

3. Atlanta Braves


Previous ranking:4

Not that the Braves-Mets rivalry needs more juice, but it will be interesting to see what happens moving forward after Pete Alonso bashed a 448-foot home run off a Bryce Elder hanging slider and yelled, "Throw it again! Throw it again, please!" as he rounded the bases. Elder claimed not to hear it and said he didn't view it as an insult. Plus, the Braves got the last laugh as they won the game 6-4 after rallying from a 4-1 deficit. Elder continues to make a strong push for the All-Star Game as he picked up the win to improve to 4-0 with a NL-leading 2.26 ERA. While Alonso hit the home run off a slider, it's been an effective pitch for Elder, as batters are hitting just .152 against it. -- Schoenfield

4. Houston Astros


Previous ranking:7

Astros stalwart Alex Bregman is as unflappable as any player in the game, so if there was some consternation about his slow start, you can be sure none of it was coming from him. A month ago, Bregman was hitting .190/.322/.320 with four homers and 15 RBIs over 34 games. We've seen this act before from the often slow-starting third baseman, whose career slugging percentage in games before May is just .398. Anyway, since that season nadir, Bregman has mashed to the tune of .306/.372/.463 with four homers and 21 RBIs in 28 games. His numbers aren't yet back to career norms, but they appear to be headed that way. As always, third base doesn't look like a problem spot for the Astros as they look to gather momentum for their pursuit of the front-running Rangers in the AL West. -- Doolittle

5. Los Angeles Dodgers


Previous ranking:2

The Dodgers dropped their weekend series against the Yankees, but there are plenty of bright spots for this team between the star-studded lineup continuing to hit and the call-up of top prospect Bobby Miller. Through three starts, the 24-year-old righty has a 1.06 ERA and 0.76 WHIP with 16 strikeouts in 17 innings pitched. Additionally, Mookie Betts has been on fire the past week, hitting four homers in five games while slashing .350/.458/.950. -- Lee

6. Baltimore Orioles


Previous ranking:6

Baltimore suffered a major blow by losing Cedric Mullins to the injured list due to a groin strain, moving Adam Frazier into the leadoff spot in the batting order. To replace Mullins in the lineup, Baltimore signed former Yankee Aaron Hicks, who has looked rejuvenated in his early days in Baltimore. Through five games with the Orioles so far, Hicks has six hits in 15 at-bats, including one homer. If Hicks can return to form, he could provide another offensive threat in what has been a top-10 offense in baseball this season. -- Lee

7. New York Yankees


Previous ranking:5

As the Yankees sit in third place in the American League East, they keep getting hit with the injury bug. Aaron Judge is out after slamming his toe into the wall at Dodger Stadium, and All-Star starter Nestor Cortes is on the IL with a left shoulder strain. New York did, however, see Giancarlo Stanton, Josh Donaldson and Tommy Kahnle all come off the IL in the past week, and Carlos Rodon is progressing toward making his Yankees debut at some point in the near future. -- Lee

8. Arizona Diamondbacks


Previous ranking:8

With every passing week, Arizona continues to show staying power in the NL West, no small task with perennial division winner Los Angeles playing well. Merrill Kelly and Zac Gallen continue to lead the way on the mound, allowing just five earned runs in 25 1/3 innings over their past four starts combined. Arizona will have to lean on them, as the rest of the rotation has been shaky. Improved performance by Ryne Nelson could help -- three of his past four outings have been OK but not nearly good enough for a division contender. Same goes for Tommy Henry, who gave up five runs in 4.1 innings against Washington on Tuesday. -- Rogers

9. Toronto Blue Jays


Previous ranking:9

Alek Manoah's continued struggles have landed him in the rookie-level Florida Complex League, where the Blue Jays hope he'll find his stuff again. It's a big blow to Toronto's viability as a World Series contender, given his former All-Star pedigree. Picking up the slack has been Jose Berrios, who has a 3.66 ERA in 12 starts this season and looks again like the starter Toronto hoped to receive when it traded for him. -- Lee

10. Minnesota Twins


Previous ranking:12

The Twins' offense had been headed in the wrong direction for about three weeks, and now, they will have to try to reverse this trend without their leader in runs created, Byron Buxton, who landed on the IL with a rib contusion. A major issue with the roster is a preponderance of pull-heavy, high-strikeout sluggers. Minnesota leads the majors in strikeout rate and swing-and-miss rate, and only the Braves have pulled a higher percentage of their balls in play. As the season nears the trade deadline, perhaps the Twins might try to balance the lineup by targeting a first baseman-DH type with bat-to-ball skills, or perhaps another outfielder, as Minnesota's collective left field OPS is the worst in the majors. -- Doolittle

11. Boston Red Sox


Previous ranking:11

The Red Sox keep wavering back and forth between streaks of success, like their eight-game winning streak in late April through early May, and coming back down to earth. Boston is getting a bunch of injured players back, such asChristian Arroyo and Adam Duvall -- and Trevor Story is inching his way back toward a return to the lineup -- but it still faces trouble in its rotation, with Chris Sale on the IL due to shoulder inflammation. -- Lee

12. Milwaukee Brewers


Previous ranking:14

Winning three of four against the Reds over the weekend righted the ship for Milwaukee, as what the Brewers lack in power they've made up for in speed, at least over the past week. They hit only .205 as a team but swiped 11 bases, including four from Christian Yelich, who had a good seven days overall at the plate. Yelich is on pace to set a career high in steals with 16 so far, after swiping 19 bases all of last year. The Brewers' offense has been just good enough this season, and Milwaukee is the favorite in the division now. -- Rogers

13. New York Mets


Previous ranking:13

In recent seasons, the Mets' offense has been driven more by batting average than power, but that hasn't been the case in 2023. In 2020, the Mets led the majors with a .272 average and ranked third in OPS (although just 13th in runs as they hit poorly with runners in scoring position). Last year, the Mets were second in batting average and tied for fifth in runs. But this year seems to be following the path of 2021, when the Mets hit just .239 and ranked 13th in the NL in runs. They're hitting .238, which ranks 21st in the majors. Francisco Lindor is down to .216 with a sub-.300 OBP. Jeff McNeil is down nearly 50 points from last year's league-leading .326 average. Alonso, Starling Marte, Mark Canha ... all down. A reason to be optimistic: The Mets are near last in BABIP, so maybe that will start climbing up. -- Schoenfield

14. Miami Marlins


Previous ranking:20

In a four-game stretch from Saturday through Tuesday, Luis Arraez went 5-for-5, 2-for-4, 3-for-4 and 2-for-4 to raise his average from .374 to .401. It's the first time a player has been hitting .400 through his team's first 62 games since Chipper Jones in 2008 (who was at .421 but remained above .400 for just nine more games). It will be interesting to see what kind of support Arraez gets in the fan voting for the All-Star Game. It's not unprecedented for the fans to vote in a Marlins player: Marcell Ozuna was voted in as a starter in 2017 (Giancarlo Stanton, who would go on to hit 59 home runs that year, also started, but as an injury replacement). Meanwhile, Tuesday's win put the Marlins at 34-28, the first time they've been six games over .500 since August 2016. -- Schoenfield

15. Pittsburgh Pirates


Previous ranking:21

Every time you count the Pirates out, they rebound with a good stretch of baseball. The latest came in a weekend sweep of the Cardinals in Pittsburgh, declaring to the baseball world which team is better in 2023.Ke'Bryan Hayeshad a huge week, going 9-for-19 with two home runs and a 1.316 OPS. He torched Cardinals pitching, going 7-for-11 in the Pirates' three wins. -- Rogers

16. Seattle Mariners


Previous ranking:10

Well, that was ugly. The Mariners went into Arlington looking to make up ground on the Rangers and lost all three games, by scores of 2-0, 16-6 and 12-3. They managed just three hits in 13 innings against Rangers starters Jon Gray and Nathan Eovaldi. With Marco Gonzales placed on the IL, Bryan Woo made his MLB debut on Saturday and allowed seven hits and six runs in two innings. Bryce Miller allowed seven runs on Sunday, and after posting a 1.15 ERA through his first five starts has now allowed 15 runs over his past two. Manager Scott Servais summed it up: "We're not playing winning baseball against top-flight teams." Yep. The Mariners are 7-0 against the A's and well under .500 against everybody else. -- Schoenfield

17. Los Angeles Angels


Previous ranking:15

The Angels had a chance to make a statement against the Astros but dropped three of four over the weekend. Reid Detmers fell to 0-5 with a 5.15 ERA in the first game, Shohei Ohtani had his worst start of the season as the Astros tallied nine hits and five runs off him in Game 2, and then Patrick Sandoval got knocked out in the fourth inning on Saturday. The Angels did win the finale 2-1 as Griffin Canning allowed just one run in six innings on Sunday.

While Ohtani has been good, the rest of the rotation continues to scuffle, as the Angels are 21st in the majors in rotation ERA. Some of the markers do point to improvement: They have a 4.79 ERA but a 4.52 FIP and 4.53 xFIP. With hard-throwing Ben Joyce (his fastball has averaged 101.7 mph in his three outings) and former first-round pick Sam Bachman now up and in the bullpen, let's see if Phil Nevin goes to even quicker hooks on his starters. -- Schoenfield

18. San Diego Padres


Previous ranking:17

The Padres have not won two consecutive games since having a three-game winning streak snapped on May 2. They are getting some surprising offense from Gary Sanchez, who is hitting .310/.375/.793 with four homers in nine games since joining the Padres. Blake Snell also had two strong starts in the past week, going 12 total innings without allowing a run on five hits while striking out 15 and walking six. Joe Musgrove is also showing signs of a turnaround, allowing just one run in 11 innings over two starts. If Musgrove and Snell can truly turn things around, San Diego will likely see some massive improvement in its record. -- Lee

19. Philadelphia Phillies


Previous ranking:18

Kyle Schwarber hit his first leadoff home run of 2023 on Tuesday -- and it proved to be the only run in a 1-0 victory, just the third time in Phillies history a leadoff home run held up as the winning run (Jimmy Rollins on Aug. 14, 2012, and John Briggs on June 12, 1969). Schwarber now has 16 home runs through Tuesday while hitting .173/.322/.425.

Some fun numbers for Schwarber to chase: (1) Joey Gallo hit 38 HRs in 2021, the most for a player who hit under .200; (2) Schwarber's 105 OPS+ would be the second highest for a player who hit under .200 (Gallo had a 121 OPS+ in 2021, but only two others have finished above 100); (3) Del Young hit .194 in 1937, the lowest batting average by a qualified player in Phillies history (although back then the qualification was 100 games played; the lowest with 502 plate appearances is Pat Burrell's .209 mark in 2003). -- Schoenfield

20. San Francisco Giants


Previous ranking:16

The middle-of-the-pack Giants have a middle-of-the-pack offense, one devoid of stars and long on interchangeability. That doesn't mean Frisco can't win, but it does mean that the real MVP of the organization might be whoever writes marketing copy that effectively makes this team look sexy. Harsh? Yeah, probably.

But right now, the Giants' top three in runs created are LaMonte Wade Jr., Thairo Estrada and J.D. Davis. Certainly, this speaks to the organization's ability to help externally acquired players become the best version of themselves. Wade has exemplified this. He entered the season having struck out more than twice as often as he's walked in his career. This season, his walks and strikeouts are about even and he has become a plus-.400 OBP standout. Nevertheless, somehow, the franchise that has featured Mel Ott, Willie Mays, Barry Bonds and so many other generational star hitters needs to locate its next one. -- Doolittle

21. Cleveland Guardians


Previous ranking:22

Both good and surprising news marked the Guardians' week. The good news was really good: Triston McKenzie returned from the IL after being out since spring training with a shoulder issue. He allowed just one hit over five scoreless innings with 10 strikeouts in a win over the division-leading Twins. The surprising news was that Cleveland created space on the roster by designating righty Zach Plesac for assignment. Plesac looked like a rotation fixture after a strong showing during the abbreviated 2020 season, but it's been all downhill since then. He posted a 7.59 ERA over five starts for the Guardians early in the season, earning a demotion to Triple-A, where he put up the same numbers -- a 7.56 ERA over five outings. -- Doolittle

22. Chicago Cubs


Previous ranking:23

The Cubs' offense has tanked without Cody Bellinger, who remains out of the lineup with a knee injury. They rank in the bottom five teams in OPS since he went down in mid-May. But the bullpen remains the biggest problem and continues to make manager David Ross look bad. Twice in the past week, Ross pulled young starter Hayden Wesneski mid-inning only to see the bullpen blow it moments later. The latest came on Tuesday, when lefty Brandon Hughes walked Shohei Ohtani to load the bases only to see Mike Trout single home two runs. The Cubs might not be underachieving, a word used often to describe them; this could be who they are. -- Rogers

23. Cincinnati Reds


Previous ranking:25

Cincinnati is becoming the "it" team for prospect promotions as Elly De La Cruz was the latest on Tuesday. He scorched a double against the Dodgers for his first major league hit. The Reds' youth has been on display in both good ways and bad recently, as a sweep of the Cubs was followed by losing three of four to the Brewers -- but a ninth-inning comeback over the Dodgers on Tuesday might have been their best win of the season. The Reds' offense ranked second in walks last week, showing plate discipline from a young team. Cincinnati probably isn't going anywhere in October, but the proverbial "future is bright" tag applies here. -- Rogers

24. St. Louis Cardinals


Previous ranking:19

Any positive May vibes have disappeared as St. Louis opened June in losing fashion. A sweep by the Pirates followed by a series loss to the Rangers dropped the Cardinals' record against plus-.500 teams to 17-28. In fact, their record in all areas is bad: They have a losing record against every other division and in interleague play. A once-feared pitching staff is anything but this year: Last week, opposing hitters had a .308 batting average against St. Louis pitching. -- Rogers

25. Chicago White Sox


Previous ranking:26

The White Sox are more or less at full health for the first time all season. Perhaps not coincidentally, they are enjoying their most prolonged stretch of winning baseball in 2023. In part thanks to the inclusive nature of AL Central competition, Chicago has closed in on the Twins, Guardians and Tigers in the division race. Run prevention has been the key, with the pitching staff posting an MLB-best 2.97 ERA since May 13.

Leading that charge has been resurgent righty Michael Kopech, who has a 2.72 ERA over seven starts since the beginning of May, with 10.9 strikeouts per nine innings and a K-BB ratio of 3.25-1. The White Sox have a ways to go before they can even reach .500, much less first place, but things haven't looked this sunny on the South Side for some time. -- Doolittle

26. Detroit Tigers


Previous ranking:24

The Tigers have a 17-10 record in games decided by one or two runs, a big reason Detroit has out-won its run differential-based expectation by more games than any other AL team except for Baltimore. Some of this is good fortune, some of it is the work of manager A.J. Hinch aligning his player usage with leverage situations, and more than some of it is because the Tigers have a pretty good bullpen.

The latter could present a quandary for the Scott Harris-led front office as the trade deadline approaches. Relievers such as Jason Foley, Alex Lange, Will Vest and Tyler Holton will surely come up in trade calls. But what happens if the Tigers continue to hover around the division lead despite underlying metrics that suggest their level of contention won't last? For now, this is only a potential drama, since the Tigers have been a pleasant surprise. -- Doolittle

27. Washington Nationals


Previous ranking:27

The Nationals have received just one home run from their first basemen (mostly Dominic Smith). OK, let's try to put that lack of power in perspective. The fewest home runs from first base in the wild-card era (since 1995 and not including 2020): the 2011 A's with seven. Since the divisional era began in 1969: the 1981 Phillies (Pete Rose) with zero. The Phillies also hit just one in 1980 (Rose again) -- although they nonetheless managed to win the World Series that season. And then there's DH (mostly Joey Meneses), where the Nationals have received just four home runs. So the Nationals have just five home runs from 1B/DH, fewest in the majors ... remarkably, however, they're middle of the pack in OPS from 1B/DH. -- Schoenfield

28. Colorado Rockies


Previous ranking:28

Colorado is doing what Colorado does: hit at Coors Field but not away from it. The Rockies rank in the top 10 teams in the majors in OPS at home but near last on the road. Their run differential is the worst in the NL, but they could catch the Padres for fourth place in the West if they go on a mini run. It's not likely to happen with a team ERA over 5.00. Bud Black will likely join a long list of Rockies managers unable to figure out how to get consistent pitching in Colorado. -- Rogers

29. Kansas City Royals


Previous ranking:29

For most of the past month, currently rostered Royals have ranked dead last in the majors by win probability added in both hitting (Bobby Witt Jr.) and pitching (Jordan Lyles). Lyles has had a dreadful season to be sure, but the 32-year-old isn't exactly a foundation piece for K.C. Witt, on the other hand, very much is. He continues to dazzle observers with his raw tools -- top-end speed, tremendous raw power, etc. But he also has a maddening tendency to try to hit a five-run homer in every situation -- even in the field, as if that were possible.

This hyperaggression contributes to his bottom-basement showing in WPA, which contextualizes a player's situational performance. Entering Wednesday, Witt had a .266/.311/.487 line with the bases empty. But with runners on base, he was at .190/.204/.316 with just two walks in 98 plate appearances. The next big step for Witt is to learn how to channel that aggression more productively. -- Doolittle

30. Oakland Athletics


Previous ranking:30

The Athletics recently reached a hurdle in their move to Las Vegas, as ownership has hit a snag in its plans to build a $1.5 billion stadium. Opposition to passing the public funding for part of the stadium has been growing in the city. If the franchise does not receive enough votes for the construction of the ballpark in Vegas, it could renew its lease for another year in Oakland, as the sentiment that funding stadiums with taxpayer dollars ends up being a bad deal for the public increases in Las Vegas. -- Lee

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